Russo Japanese war small naval summary

Statue of Admiral Togo
Statue of Admiral Togo
Bridge and main forward gun of Mikasa
Bridge and main forward gun of Mikasa
Medium caliber weapons on the Mikasa
Medium caliber weapons on the Mikasa
Medium caliber weapons from inside the ship.
Medium caliber weapons from inside the ship.
Siege and battle for Port Arthur
Siege and battle for Port Arthur
The battle of Tsushima
The battle of Tsushima

A small naval history of the Russo-Japanese War

A small naval summary of Russo-Japanese War


One of the first large-scale wars of the 20th century, the Russo-Japanese war provided a taste of things to come for warfare. It signaled the rise of Japan onto the world stage and another step in the road to the overthrow and death of the czars of Russia. The events of the Russo-Japanese War as well as it aftermath resonated with both countries throughout the 20th century.

While both sides waged immense land battles on the Asian continent, the naval battles take up the bulk of the attention on the war. Although a brand new naval force in comparison to the rest of the world, the Imperial Japanese Navy, also known as the Rengo Kantai distinguished itself in the war. It was the Navy that opened hostilities at Port Arthur and ended it at Tsushima, which has gone down as one of the most pivotal naval battles in history. Although it was one of the most important moments in their history, the events of the Russo-Japanese War seduced Japan onto a path that lead to utter ruin. In the case of its military, the war blinded them to the belief that they could have the same success against other similar powers.

History of Asia up until the war

During the 19th century, the countries of Europe were on a race to expand their colonial holdings throughout the world. Amongst their focus of expansion was in Asia, which had large quantities of valuable minerals that they wanted for their industries. By the turn of the 20th century, the United States and Japan joined them and a large focus of the attention had turned to China.

After explorers discovered the riches of Siberia, Russia began a long period of expansion into the region that continued on until the end of 18th century. By that time along with Siberia, Russia also had colonized parts of Alaska. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Russia concentrated on developing the region, including establishing the port of Vladivostok in 1860. Despite this, Siberia remained undeveloped and felt at times like a prison as much of its population consisted of criminals, nomads, political prisoners, etc. Switching its focus to the south, Russia began to make its presence felt in Asia with inroads into Manchuria and Korea as well as joining other nations in the carving up of China. To strengthen its hand in Asia and develop its eastern regions, Russia began to build the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1891.

A new player emerged on the world stage when Japan had recently emerged from its 200 years of near isolation from the rest of the world in 1854. Determined not to end up like China, Japan furiously attempted to catch up to the west as it sent personnel all over the world to learn of new developments in science and technology. In the later half of the 1800s, Japan joined the other nations in a race to build empires in Asia. Starting at first with naval expeditions to Korea and Formosa in the 1870s, Japan later fought in a victorious war with China that lasted from 1894 to 1895. Later, Japan would participate in the quelling of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 alongside other nations including its future foe Russia. As it looked for areas of Asia to expand into, Japan’s attention turned to Korea for several reasons: it was an excellent staging area for an invasion of the home islands and a good place from which to expand onto the Asian mainland. Japan had once before attempt to expand into Asia from Korea during the time of the shoguns.

Not surprisingly, the expansion plans of both nations put them on collision course with each other. As part of its victory in the Shino-Japanese war of 1894-1895, Japan gained control of the naval base of Port Arthur. However Russia which had been desperately searching for a warm-water port also had eyes on the port. With assistance from France and Germany, Russia forced Japan to relinquish control of the port shortly after the war and two years later assumed ownership. Angered by the move, Japan began to draw up plans and build up its strength for a potential future conflict with the other powers.

As the prospect of war increased, both Russian and Japanese diplomats attempted to negotiate a deal for the common territory and avoid conflict. However two things thwarted their efforts, an alliance between Japan and Britain and the Russian government disbelieving that Japan posed a serious threat. Seeing the strength of the Russian army and navy in the region continuing to increase, Japan decided on the grim, and in their point of view inevitable, decision to go to war.

History of the fleet combatants:

Formed in the aftermath of the experience of its leader Peter the Great, the Imperial Russian Navy had long experience in warfare against other naval powers. At first, it engaged in operations on its borders but eventually expanded to operate around the world in support of the Russian empire during the 18th and 19th centuries. Though weaker that that of the other nations of Europe, Russia’s large industrial resources along with foreign assistance allowed it to build up its navy up to the level of Britain and France by the late 19th century. Amongst the wars that it participated in included the Crimean War in which it lost and Russo-Turkish War in which it won.

Founded in 1869, the Imperial Japanese Navy at first consisted of warships from the former Tokugawa navy and the ships owned by the leaders of private domains within Japan. Despite limited resources, Japan rapidly built up its navy mainly with assistance from Britain which helped build warships and train officers from Japan. Japan also turned to France for vital help in terms of shipbuilding and the construction of naval ports despite the partnership lasting for a short period of time. Five years after its creation, the Rengo Kantai embarked on expeditions against Korea and Taiwan. Near the end of the 19th century, the fleet participated in its first true war when it fought the Chinese Navy during the First Sino-Japanese War. Despite having less powerful warships then the Chinese, Japan’s Navy emerged from the war victorious. After Russia, France and Germany forced the Japanese to relinquish some of their gains the Imperial Fleet began to build up its strength for a potential future war against Russia or one of the other powers in the region. Despite limited resources and with assistance primarily from Britain, Japan built up an impressive fleet with its core strength of six battleships and six armored cruisers under its Six-Six program.

Technological and naval advances

Both fleets would engage each other with the fruits of a technological race that rivaled the nuclear arms race of the second half of the 20th century. Starting with the creation of the first ironclad warships by Britain and France in 1854, the nations of the world engaged in a naval arms competition that lasted around the turn of the century. Focusing on weapons, armor, communications, engines, and warship design, the navies of the world made breakthrough that resulted in technology that was new one day being instantly obsolete the next day.

On the issue of armament, all nations attempted to develop new guns that dealt with a variety of threats over different distances. These ranged from large guns that attempted to blast through new thick armor of the largest warships to rapid-fire guns designed to deal with fast moving torpedo boats. To add to the firepower of these warships, some of them also had torpedo tubes as well, mostly likely to deal with close range targets. Soon enough, the battleships of the world had up to five types of guns as well as torpedo tubes, which added a large amount of weight and created problems with ship stability. In addition, the nations of the world, including Japan and Russia, developed new types of ammunition to increase the gun’s destructive power. Furthermore as the range in surface naval combat increased, both Britain and France developed and sold new systems that allowed warships to use their guns more effectively.

Alongside the development of new guns for the battleships, the navies of the world developed new weapons such as the modern torpedo as well as improved mines. The modern torpedo, which any warship could use and which had enough destructive power to sink the heaviest warship, proved an attractive weapon to resource poor nations such as Japan. Though torpedoes would play their part during the war, they did not have a truly decisive impact that they would have in later wars. Mines on the other hand had proved their destructiveness in earlier conflicts and would prove extremely lethal to both navies during the war, particularly during the fighting and siege of Port Arthur.

In turn, as soon as new breakthroughs came in the issue of guns, new nations raced to develop armor to defeat the newly developed weapons. The development of new armor also brought into issue the maximization of its protection for the large and expensive warships. Both Britain and France took different approaches to the issue with the French focusing on protection along the entire waterline while the British focused on protection from gunfire while leaving the bow and the stern virtually unprotected. For the combatants, Russia followed France’s lead while Britain imparted its own views upon Japan.

Russian and Japanese fleets

By the time the war began, both Russia and Japan had built naval fleets of impressive size and capabilities. While the Russian fleet was larger in overall numbers and had the resources to absorb combat losses, it had to split its fleet to deal with multiple potential threats although the Far East received priority in the years before the war. When the war began, the Russian Pacific Fleet consisted of two groups with a cruiser squadron based at Vladivostok and the main battleship force at Port Arthur. Though it had two main ports available in the form of Vladivostok and Port Arthur, both had disadvantages. Both ports had small harbor mouths that an enemy could easily block and Vladivostok had to deal with the problem of the ice, which occurred three to four months during the year. In addition, the Russian Fleet did not have the major facilities to repair damage effectively to large warships at either of the two ports and had to send its large warships back to St. Petersburg.

Japan on the other hand had a mostly modern fleet of warships and facilities at Sabeso to maintain the larger warships although it could ill afford to take heavy losses particularly in a long conflict. In addition, its alliance with Britain ensured that Japan would only have to concentrate on a single foe. Though outnumbered overall in terms of ships, the Rengo Kantai had an initial numerical advantage in the number of cruisers and destroyers in the battle zone. Furthermore, nearly all of the Japanese warships were more modern than that of the Russians. This allowed the Imperial Japanese Navy to have a balanced force of ships with similar capabilities to bring to bear in battle.

In the case of numbers and even taking into account the need to split the fleet, the Russians outnumbered the Japanese in the case of battleships. However, the Russian ones were of different sizes and capabilities while the Japanese ones were more modern and had similar capabilities. While the battleships of both forces had similar firepower capabilities, they had different requirements that suited their respective owners. Needing to travel long distances and worried more about underwater threats, Russian battleships adopted the French design plan. On the other hand all of the Japanese battleships followed the British design plan and operated near home waters.

The high-level command staff of both fleets had combat experience. In the case of Russia, it had participated in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 where by use of torpedoes and mines, it had effectively battled the much larger Turkish fleet. Most of the officers in the fleet were mainly specialists in either weapons or navigation. Unfortunately, favoritism plagued the fleet with officers mainly concerned with their own standing instead of duty to the service and nation.

For Japan, many of its officers had fought during the wars of the Meiji Restoration and later in the first Sino-Japanese War. As it built up its strength, Japan sent representatives to other nations to learn quickly from them and the future naval officers were part of that effort. In addition, Japan had the help of the great naval power of the day as the British Royal Navy dispatched advisors to Japan and several officers including Admiral Heihachi Togo had studied in London.

With a large population at its disposal, the Russian military could find more than enough crew for its warships. Unfortunately, the crews came from all corners of the empire with many of them having never seen an ocean before conscription dragged them into the army and navy. Furthermore, the crews were from different ethnicities with many of them resentful of the behavior of Czarist Russia. In addition, relations between the crews and the officers were mostly poor. This was particularly in the case of the crews of the 2nd and 3rd Pacific Squadrons as they traveled from St. Petersburg to their destruction at Tsushima.

Although having a much smaller population and resource base than that of Russia, nearly all of crewmembers of the Japanese warships had experience with the sea and were literate as well. Unlike in the Russian navy, the Japanese had sailors who volunteered as well as conscripts and it trained them extensively to a high standard, particularly in the use of a ship’s guns. Furthermore, careful use of propaganda and information had ensured loyalty to the state and the belief that it was an honor to serve and die for the emperor, who the population of Japan considered as a living god. Finally, relations between Japanese officers and crew were much better than that of their Russian counterparts and those that worked hard enough could advance up the ranks.


Opening rounds and attempts by Togo for decisive fleet action

Once the Japanese government decided upon war, its military received its assignments. Its army would invade Korea and push north into Manchuria while the navy protected the supply lines and dealt with the Russian Navy. Hoping to achieve this goal quickly, Togo, commanding from the battleship Mikasa, took most of the fleet to engage the Russian fleet at Port Arthur. This attack would cover the attack on the KoreanPort of Inchon while other units would cover the Russian fleet units at Vladivostok.

Although both countries had broken off relations on February 4, the Japanese Navy took the Russians by complete surprise with Togo struck first. In the late evening hours of February 8, Togo launched a torpedo attack on the port with ten destroyers. Fighting their way through a sentry screen of two Russian destroyers, the assembled force arrived and fired torpedoes that slammed into two battleships and one cruiser. Although the attack caused immense panic amongst the Russians, the damage was minor and when his main force arrived to join in the battle the next day, the Russian fleet and the Port Arthur shore battles greeted him with savage defensive fire. Fighting two foes at the same time, Togo divided his fire to deal with both threats, which allowed the Russian forces to gain firepower superiority. Eventually the combined damage from the ships and the forts persuaded Togo to withdraw.

Needing to deal with the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur immediately, Togo tried a variety of tactics, which included baiting the fleet, blockading them with mines and ships and even using some of his battleships to shell the base from long distance. In turn, Russian Vice Admiral Stephan Osipovich Marakov, the new commander of the fleet, launched offensive operations to keep the Japanese off balance. He paid for it with his life when his flagship, the Russian battleship Petropavlovsk, ran into Japanese mines, which sank the ship in two minutes. After Marakov’s death, Rear Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft assumed command of the fleet and flew his flag on the battleship Tesarevich. Preferring a passive defensive policy, Vitgeft forced Togo to engage in offensive action to get at the Russian fleet. While he could not annihilate the 1st Pacific Squadron, Togo kept it penned in as the Japanese army landed forces in both Korea and near Port Arthur. Unfortunately, such actions played into the hands of the Russian fleet as the Japanese suffered heavy losses including two of their six battleships to mines.

Outnumbered by the Russians in terms of battleships and with enemy reinforcements on their way, Togo attempted to preserve his main firepower while destroying the 1st Pacific Squadron. The difficulties in this mission increased as Russian cruisers based at Vladivostok launched major raids into Japanese waters. Sinking several important transports, the Russian cruiser forces forced Togo to send ships away from his main force to patrol the waters around Japan. To strengthen his main battleship force, Togo added his armored cruisers into the line as they had the gun power if not the armor to serve with the larger warships.

Although they faced heavy resistance, the advance of the Japanese 3rd Army towards Port Arthur soon added more trouble for the 1st Pacific Squadron. Even before the Japanese forces seized the needed ground to bring in siege guns, the Russian fleet had already made plans to attempt breakouts towards Vladivostok. The first attempt took place on June 23, 1904 in the late afternoon as the Russian fleet departed the port and on a course southwest and soon encountered the Japanese fleet which waited 20 miles from the entrance. Instead of engaging, Vitgeft canceled the planned operation, despite the fact that he had enough heavy ships available to fight his way through and the darkness would have masked his movements had he continued. Though harried by destroyers, the Russian fleet fled back to the relative safety of Port Arthur.

Eventually, the Japanese 3rd Army’s advance made the port untenable for the Russian fleet as the ships in the harbor suffered heavy damage from Japanese artillery. That fact and an order by Czar Nicholas forced Vitgeft’s hand as he sailed out to the open sea on August 10, 1904 for a second breakout attempt. At first, the 1st Pacific Squadron managed to slip by the Japanese fleet but eventually Togo caught up with the Russians and soon both sides engaged in a running firefight during the late afternoon.

At first, it seemed that both fleets were on a collision course with the Japanese seemingly catching the Russians in a tight squeeze. However, Togo began the engagement by firing at long range, which did no damage but alerted the Russian fleet. Instead of engaging or heading towards Port Arthur as the Japanese thought they would, the Russians turned around northeast and headed at full speed.

Caught out of position, the Japanese main fleet immediately set off in pursuit at maximum speed. Eager to destroy the 1st Pacific Squadron, Togo immediately commenced firing with his main guns once he reached the extreme range of his target. However as Togo steadily closed in with the Russians, his ships received a steady hail of fire that damaged his main force, particularly the Mikasa. More importantly the damage played havoc with his flagship’s radios with the rest of the fleet and prevented him from effectively coordinating his fire. While the Russians also received damage in return, they were still ahead of the Japanese and only a few hours of daylight remained before the Russian fleet could escape in the darkness.

That luck ran out when at 6:30pm a shell hit the bridge of the Tesarevich, killing Vitgeft along with his staff and crippling the flagship. As a result, the Russian fleet lost command and control during a critical moment of the battle and eventually began to scatter. Taking advantage of the confusion, the Japanese fleet moved in to engage with as much firepower they could get their hands on. Despite the carnage they had endured, the Russian fleet continued to shoulder on as one of their battleships attempted to engage the entire Japanese fleet at close quarters while the rest got clear.

Soon darkness soon closed in and with his main ships damaged and fears of a torpedo attack, Togo withdrew from the field as his destroyers to engage the Russian fleet. Though they did not kill any ships, they kept up the pressure as a majority of the Russian Fleet returned to the safety of Port Arthur. While the Russian fleet suffered no ship losses due to direct enemy action, it lost several as they sailed towards neutral ports. Those that made it back to Port Arthur suffered extensive damage and the naval command staff there had no intention of making another breakout attempt.

Four days later, it was the turn of the Vladivostok squadron as its three cruisers attempted to assist the 1st Pacific Squadron. Instead in the waters off Ulsan, it ran into a waiting force of Japanese cruisers eager to secure their own waters once and for all. Eventually outnumbering their foes by two to one, the Japanese overwhelmed the Vladivostok squadron, sinking one cruiser and knocking the other two permanently out of action. With the cruiser force of Vladivostok taken care of, Togo could focus his entire fleet on one target.

Eventually the progress by the Japanese army on the ground sealed the fate of the 1st Pacific Squadron as siege artillery sank most of the ships in the shallow waters. One Russian battleship, the Sevastopol, along with the remaining destroyers attempted to escape but Togo waited for them at the entrance. Savage attacks by cruisers and destroyers foiled the attempt with the destruction of the Russian battleship and the interning of the destroyers although Togo lost one cruiser and two destroyers.

Russian Reinforcements

When the war began, the Russian Navy activated its plan to reinforce the 1st Pacific Squadron, which took shape in the form of the 2nd Pacific Squadron and at first consisted of the newest Russian warships, particularly the four brand new Borodino class battleships. As the situation continued to deteriorate in the Pacific, the 2nd Pacific Squadron delayed its departure and increased its strength as more ships joined up with the force. Eventually the 3rd Pacific Squadron, a force made up of very old warships, would journey to the Pacific as well.

Unfortunately, most of the best ships and crews had already arrived in the Pacific, which forced the Russians to turn to recent conscripts as well as troublemakers and cripples. Though they had a capable experienced commander in Vice-Admiral Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky, even he had difficulties that would plague the squadron during its long voyage. He would command the fleet from the new battleship Knyaz Suvorov.

Finally, they had to travel 18,000 miles to their destination, which resulted in enormous supply problem, particularly in terms of coal. Due to Japan’s alliance with Britain, the Russian fleet would have limited access to coaling stations to provide fuel for the fleet. As a result, all of the ships would take on enormous amounts of coal and squeeze them into every possible space, which affected the stability of a ship as well as the health of its crew. Due to the nature of the journey and the need to conserve supplies, neither the 2nd or 3rd Pacific Squadrons conducted any training before they departed and during the voyage across the Pacific. Some help did eventually come in the form of 60 German coilers which would supply the 2nd and 3rd Pacific Squadrons in stages throughout their journey.

Departing in October 1904, the Russian fleet had a harrowing voyage in which they dealt with multiple problems, including an incident at the Dogger Bank that nearly resulted in war with Britain. When the Russian High command received word that Japan had captured Port Arthur and sunk the 1st Pacific Squadron some raised the idea of recalling the fleet. However, Czar Nicholas ordered that the reinforcement fleet press on and there was agreement that the fleet head for Vladivostok.

Thanks to assistance from foreign newspapers and spies as well as mishaps by the Russian fleet, Togo kept track of the Russian naval reinforcements as they sailed to the Pacific. With the First Pacific Squadron destroyed and the naval forces from Vladivostok incapable of providing resistance, the Japanese Fleet had all the time in the world to prepare for the Russian fleet. That time increased as the Russian high command ordered Rozhestvensky to wait for the 3rd Pacific Squadron to join up with him in French Indochina. When they eventually made the journey northward, the Russians would come in exhausted and their ships would not function effectively due to lack of maintenance and enormous amount of coal still within their hulls. The Japanese outnumbered them in overall ships and they would be fighting the upcoming battle with their ships fully functional and their crews working at their best.


After the Third Pacific Squadron linked up with him in Cam Ranh Bay, Rozhestvensky had to decide on how to proceed northward towards Vladivostok. Mindful of the situation with the coal, he decided to proceed by the shortest route to Vladivostok, which took him into the Korea Strait, between Korea and Japan itself.

Coming to the same conclusion particularly after hearing that several Russian auxiliary vessels docked at Shanghai, Togo deployed scouts along the approach while the rest of the fleet waited for contact. His main force was at Musan in Korea while other elements sailed in the two main sections of the Korea Strait: the Western Channel and the TsushimaStrait.

At first, the Russian fleet, with most of its ships having darkened lights, managed to slip by the Japanese scout ships in the foggy weather. However, one of the auxiliary ships had its lights on which Japanese cruisers soon picked up in the early hours of May 27th. The Russians themselves discovered their pursuers and attempted to organize for battle while driving them off with gunfire. This resulted in the fleet arranging itself into three columns. The newest warships sailed at the lead in one column and the older warships in the second column behind the first to the left and the remaining auxiliaries in the rear. Constantly shadowing the Russians while sending continuous updates, the cruisers helped direct Togo and the entire fleet to the battle area to which he arrived at 1:39pm. As he approached the Russian fleet, Togo raised the Z flag on the Mikasa and made his famous pronouncement to the fleet that the battle would decide the fate of their empire.

Unfortunately, the scout ships incorrectly reported the position of the Russian fleet, which led to Togo encountering the newer Russian ships first. Quickly correcting this oversight, Togo ordered his ships into a large U-turn while holding their fire, a process that took 15 minutes while the astonished Russians watched for ten minutes before firing on them. Despite receiving a steady number of hits, the Japanese fleet escaped crippling damage and with the turn complete, the Japanese fleet now lay broadside towards the charging Russian fleet. Furthermore, the ranges had now decreased to which the Japanese ships could target their Russian foes with a good chance of hits with all of their guns.

Togo had crossed the T, one of the most well known maneuvers of naval surface warfare, and his ships took full advantage as Togo gave the order for all his ships to commence firing at 2:10pm. His four battleships and accompanying cruisers rapidly laid down a murderous curtain of fire on the onrushing Russian warships and the damage rapidly increased as the fleets closed the range. While his ships still received hits from enemy gunfire, they killed or injured few sailors and the Japanese ships functioned at peak efficiency despite the moderate damage.

The Russians on the other hand suffered enormous damage as they came under an avalanche of shells. Although the Russian gunners attempted to fight back and still indeed could score hits, the Japanese fire quickly overwhelmed them. While they did suffer damaging hits from standard armor-piercing shells, it was the armor piercing high-explosive shells that proved devastating as they killed scores of Russian crews and officers, blasted away at the upper superstructure and left the crowded upper decks awash in flame. Amongst one of the victims was Rozhestvensky who suffered a head wound and shell fragments in his skull as the Japanese fleet blasted the Suvorov to pieces. With him injured, a command crisis developed which further added to the Russian fleet’s disarray as Rozhestvensky lost his former second in command before the battle and had kept it quiet from the rest of the fleet.

After one hour of battle, the Russian fleet fell apart under the Japanese fire with one battleship already sunk and several others in the lead suffering tremendous damage. Eventually they attempted to disengage with several attempting to draw fire while the rest made an all out run for Vladivostok. Togo immediately set off in pursuit and with his faster speed eventually regained contact with the remnants of the 2nd as well as the intact 3rd Pacific Squadron. Engaging in a running battle, Togo’s gunners sank two more battleships and inflicted crippling damage on the rest of the fleet.

As daylight ended and ammunition ran low, Togo ordered his main ships to retire and sent in his destroyers to mop up. Throughout the night and often at great risk to themselves, the Japanese destroyers gave the Russians no respite as they swarmed the remaining Russian warships in the dark and fired numerous torpedoes to finish them off.

By the late morning of next day, the Battle of Tsushima ended with a decisive Japanese victory. At the cost of 3 torpedo boats and 114 sailors, the Japanese Imperial Navy had sunk 21 ships and captured 10 more ships, including a destroyer that held Rozhestvensky. Eight ships reached neutral ports where the local authorities interned them while only three made the last leg of an incredible journey to Vladivostok.

Immediate aftermath of the end of hostilities

The outcome of Tsushima along with the results of the recent land battles persuaded both governments to end the war for different reasons. Although some in Russia still wanted to fight and despite the still immense resources at his disposal, Czar Nicholas had enough of the war as it added to the internal problems Russia was suffering at this time. The navy was particularly hard hit as uprisings occurred, at its naval bases along with the famous uprising of the Russian battleship Potemkin. For the Japanese, though they were still ahead, the war had already strained their resources and even before Tsushima, the Japanese government had already made plans to secure peace with the assistance of US president Theodore Roosevelt. Tsushima persuaded the Japanese to cash in their success and eventually both sides signed the Treaty of Portsmouth on September 5th.

Impact upon naval combat

Although ships with iron and enormous guns had dueled with each other before the Russo-Japanese War, theory abounded on how they should function. The war helped refined the focus as nations from all over the world analyzed its lessons. They adopted some of those lessons that turned out to be excellent ones while others turned out to be nearly disastrous in future conflicts. On the plus side, mines had proven once again their lethality against the strongest warships. On the negative side, it became acceptable to use armored cruisers alongside battleships when in fact it subjected the cruisers to extreme risk as the naval surface combat in World War I showed to the world.

The results of the use of naval guns in battles such as at Tsushima showed that ships armed mostly with the largest guns were the wave of the future in naval warfare. Incorporating knowledge gained from observing the battle helped the British Royal Navy in the construction of the HMS Dreadnaught, a new battleship that debuted less than one year after Tsushima. Her presence made every other large warship obsolete and sparked a new arms race amongst the naval powers as they wanted dreadnaughts of their own. Japan would follow soon three years later with the dreadnaught Satsuma.

However most those lessons would not matter as much as improvements in the development of the submarine and then development of the airplane negated the value of large warships armed with enormous guns.

Influence upon Imperial Japanese Navy.

Though the victories that the Rengo Kantai had achieved in the Russo-Japanese war were historic, they had an unintentional effect throughout the rest of its service life. In a sense and in a fashion similar to what happened to the French Army between World War I and II, the Japanese took their success and their lessons obsessively to heart.

In an operational sense, the Japanese Navy felt that they would conduct a future war within a localized battlefield. However, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor along with the charge into Southeast Asia resulted in the exact opposite of what Japan had hoped for. Also the nature of the attack on Pearl Harbor ensured that the resulting war would be a fight to the finish, which Japan could ill afford to fight. The only way Japan could actually win would be to do what Admiral Irosoku Yamamoto, a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war, had famously quoted before the war: “to march into the White House and demand peace terms.”

Although Russia could have won the war on the ground, it gave up the fight after Nicholas learned about the tragic losses of the Navy, particularly after Tsushima. That along with influence from Britain persuaded the Japanese Navy to seek out a kantai kassen (decisive battle) with the US Navy in any potential future conflict. Unfortunately the nature of World War II prevented this from happening as it entailed a fight to the death, a war of annihilation. Furthermore, the singular focus on decisive battle ignored the need to protect supply lines across enormous bodies of water, a fact that hampered their efforts during the Russo-Japanese War and proved to be fatal to them during World War II.

Based on the experiences of the First-Sino Japanese War as well as the later Russo-Japanese War, the Rengo Kantai believed that a warship should have a large amount of offensive firepower to be an effective weapon. This became even more critical as Japan and US started to move onto a collision course as the Japanese knew that they could not compete with the US industrially. Instead they focused on making their individual ships stronger than their American counterparts. Most of the focus was on the weapons and the engines of the warship. While the emphasis on speed and firepower did work in combat, it came at the expense of protection and especially damage control.

This also affected how the Japanese Navy operated in combat as they groups large portions of the best ships of all types in the fleet into powerful battle groups. While it made them indeed very lethal, it put all of their eggs into one basket, an issue which would be graphically demonstrated at Midway.

Comments 3 comments 5 years ago

Well done.

Covered all the relevant and significant points.

lions44 profile image

lions44 3 years ago from Auburn, WA

Really interesting article. Japan's success here imbued them with an overconfidence that continued when the occupied the German-held islands during WWI. Those young officers at Tsushima would later be in charge during WWII. I think the failed land battles are even more interesting. Russian incompetence was unbelievable. Great stuff. Keep up the good work.

Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 12 months ago

Excellent article. It cleared up many misconceptions I had about that conflict. The details are great. Thank you.

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